Matt Nagy’s first head-coaching heartbreak lasted until the Halas Hall omelet station.
He was somewhere between furious and bewildered after last season’s opener, in which a hobbled Aaron Rodgers did his best movie-monster impression by rallying the Packers to win from a 20-0 deficit.
“That was a bad one,” Nagy said this week. “But the sun comes up the next day. When you walk into work in the morning, they’re still making the omelets.”
In retrospect, the loss was the best thing to happen to the Bears. They walked off the field knowing they could compete with anyone and won 12 of their next 15 games.
“That game helped us more than it hurt us,” Nagy said.
The Bears had no such luxury after their most recent heartbreak — Cody Parkey’s now-infamous double doink of a 43-yard field goal that likely would’ve beaten the Eagles in the first round of the NFC playoffs.
The fury, the sadness and the frustration festered through the offseason. Thursday night against the Packers — at the scene of the crime, Soldier Field — is the first chance the Bears have to put the game behind them.
There are still ghosts to bust: Quarterback Mitch Trubisky needs to look the way he did in the fourth quarter of the playoff game, not the first three quarters. The defense must improve upon its last series, in which it allowed the Eagles to march for the game-winning touchdown. And in his NFL debut, kicker Eddy Pineiro will have to shoulder the weight of the city on his right leg.
“If I’m here, if I’m anywhere else, I have to make all of my kicks,” he said.
The Bears’ offseason — Parkey’s miss, “Today” show appearance and subsequent canning; the team replacing new Broncos coach Vic Fangio with defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano; drafting running back David Montgomery and trading Jordan Howard; and the now-infamous nine-man kicker derby — seems to have dragged on forever. In other ways, it has raced by.
“The ball hit the goalpost, you snap your fingers and you’re here,” guard Kyle Long said. “It was really quick.”
Nagy didn’t let his players put Parkey’s kick too far in the past. He showed the kick at the end of two separate highlight videos during the team’s offseason program, players said. In team meetings, he recited the sports calendar’s comeback stories, from Virginia avenging a first-round loss to win the NCAA Tournament to Tiger Woods snapping an 11-year major-tournament drought by winning the Masters.
“I definitely was reminded throughout the offseason of the way we went out,” running back Tarik Cohen said. “We just have been motivated about that since the game ended.
“You get your season snatched away by something like that. It’s over in one play.”
Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel understands why Nagy used the kick as fuel — “One thing we’ve done is turn it into a positive,” he said — while fellow wide receiver Allen Robinson said the Bears didn’t need reminding.
“Coach Nagy knows the kind of guys that you have in this locker room,” Robinson said. “This is not a group by any means that you need to motivate.”
General manager Ryan Pace said this week that Nagy found a “healthy medium” between belaboring the kick and tackling it head-on.
“We’re always striving for greatness, and that wasn’t good enough,” Pace said. “It left a sour taste in all of our mouths. It drives you. We’re all competitors.”
The Bears’ season-opening stunner shaped their 2018 season. On Thursday, they’ll show how their season-ending shocker affects 2019.
“You kind of can look at last year’s first game and take away some lessons from that,” Trubisky said. “All the hoopla, kicking off the NFL season, the 100th season — all of that really doesn’t matter.”